Archive for the ‘virtuosity’ Category

Studio visit with Anarchist/Artist…

June 12, 2008

Flora and I had been planning this trip up the coast for a couple of weeks. We intended to visit Anarchist/Artist, take him for lunch, see his local exhibition and then visit his studio. I was pumped, and not only because for a shut-in, like me, a trip like this is a special gift, but also because I so much enjoy spending time with Anarchist/Artist and see him pull out of storage one remarkable work after another. Prissy german Tourist, who is also friends with him, and I, both consider Anarchist/Artist one of of B. C.’s underappreciated artistic treasures. He is absolutely committed to his work and to living within certain stringent principles which he espouses. A man to admire, in the complete sense of admiration of coherent belief and practice as exemplars in living. He does good, does no harm, and lives gently with great respect for the gifts life bestows upon him.

Taking a ferry to get to his community is such a production. Because Flora is such a fine and intelligent companion, time travelling didn’t seem so onerous. En route, we discussed various points of politics and practice of the publicly funded gallery system. We admired the views from the ferry’s lounge, even though the day was one of lowering skies, greens, and misty greys. We watched a small motor boat struggle to cross the bow of the ferry up ahead, quite nervous and anticipating a small marine disaster. Some operators of small craft have little awareness of the speed of larger vessels. Our coast has a history of many accidents during such attempts to not lay by and let a larger boat have right of way. We were quite relieved to note the smaller boat scoot out of danger, by a hair, it seemed.

Once debarked, we made good time on the Coast road, and soon turned off the highway onto the dirt track where Anarchist/Artist’s cabin and studio nestled among a profusion of Rhododendrons, past bloom, and tall evergreens. An eight foot cairn marks the parking area. A bonsai-ed horse-chestnut tree in a planter stands near the front steps; its leaves perfect and tender green. Sweet woodruff carpetsthe foundations on either sides of the staircase. We peeked through the glass door to see Anarchist/Artist upright near his vomiting skeleton sculpture, happily sipping from a ceramic mug with a temmoku glaze. We tapped on the window. He came and let us in; greeted us with warm hugs and kisses on the cheek.

I invariably feel good whenever in his company. He is courtly, charming, beautifully spoken with an educated British accent. In his mid-sixties, he is aging as only men who have led a healthful and considered life age – gracefully and well. He lives a simple and aesthetic life surrounded by his work, by books, music, and growing things which he propagates for his survival and consumption. On his easel was a recent still-life study of a clutch of beets and their greens. This glowed in jewel-like splendour, made with reverence, vigour and beautiful marks. When asked if he got his vegetable garden in ample time this spring, he bemoaned that he had been reluctant to set out his cucumber seedlings because nights, even in June, have been so cold this year. He is fearful he will not get in his usual crop. He grows an organic cash crop, and exchanges for meats and other supplies. We wondered what kind of crop he might get this year. The weather has been so unusually somber and lacking in hot sunny days.

Flora sked him wher he migh want to go for lunch. we decided to blow the budget and go to a restaurant where there was a good chef. However, after we drove there we found it closed. We went off to a waterfront pub and sat outside under propane heaters ( a most unusual necessity in late spring at this latitude). We ate, drank wine with our pub fare and discussed his long career. Flora demonstrated by her demeanor that she much enjoyed his company. I listened and posed some questions and small observations. After all, our intention in visiting with Anarchist/Artist was to have the two of them meet and discuss further exhibition possibilities of A/A’s works.

After lunch we drove to the local Municpal Gallery, where A/A’s plein air paintings of local industrial landscapes were exhibited. I should hesitate to label them as “plein air” because they are qualitatively much different with what is associated with plein air paintings. They are really direct studies of industrial constructions in the landscape, and as such differ from the flabby, inchoate landscapes that are lately characterized as plein air paintings. A/A has an acute manner of distilling industrial forms, and way of notating the characteristic land, water and sky patterns of our region. As a collection, this exhibition should be bought by a local museum, as examples of a painter’s recording of the economic activities of a specific region. But, by God, there were several I would have loved to have for myself! We stayed in the gallery for a long time. I entertained myself by getting nose-to-painting looks at the marks he had made the paintings of, and studying his truly idiosyncratic use of colour. What a treat!

We drove back to his studio afterward and stayed for a couple of hours more. He pulled out from storage his more controversial and political work, some drawings and studies. We looked at his collection of seed-pods, bones, roots, a remarkable desiccated skunk, stones and dried insects. Much of his graphic work is inhabited by the presence of these objects as part of the symbolic vocabulary he uses. He has obviously developed his visual language over many past decades of consideration and study, and in his work offers permutations and combinations of them much as a poet does of words and metaphors. The energy and control with which he makes his marks is masterful; his skill developed by years of trial and practice. he is a remarkable colourist. While his political imagery is disturbing, it has the conviction of thought and belief, long considered, as underpinning. One may or may not like his paintings, his prints, but they seep into the brain, into memory, under the skin and won’t let go. Flora looked and looked, commented, asked questions. I asked to buy a book of his prints and one of his more anarchist print images for myself. But there is one remarkable painting i am going to save my shekels for, now. I know Rumpole wont necessarily like it, but usually he assents to my decision to acquire art that means something to me.

Flora and i realized after a time that we were almost going to mis the ferry home. So we said our goodbyes to and appreciation of the time Anarchist/Artist had given us. On the trip home we discussed how Flora might be able to raise funds to have an exhibition of Anarchist/Artist’s work at our Municipal gallery. We brainstormed over coffee and muffins and filled paper napkins with copious notes of our fundraising ideas. We agreed it had been a day spent in the best possible way.

Today I am exhausted, but happy at having had such a wonderful experience and opportunity. I just hope Anarchist/Artist doesn’t feel like we have wasted his time. And I am hoping that a local exhibition comes about from the meeting between him and Flora.

A tag from Nita…

May 10, 2008

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor – Das Land des Lächelns

Nita – http://nitawriter.wordpress.com – has tagged me with a writing tag… to select a song which compels one to entre into a state where writing (or making images) is stimulated. While I rarely work with music in the background, preferring silence or ambient sound, certain pieces of music cause me to disconnect from mundane preoccupations and let my spirit soar into regions where imagination, or “what if”, lives.

This beautiful aria is one I fortuitously found on a record from an obscure little record store, back in 1973. It was a recording of Fritz Wunderlich’s great arias. A heartachingly beautiful tenor, this song is one I always listen to in the springtime. Especially when looking at my apple tree in bloom, which, this year it has not done in April, but rather late right now in May – I hum along in an atrocious alto with glee and intense pleasure.

“Die apfelbluete ist einen kranz…” (The apple tree is a crown…)

I hope you enjoy this lovely song, by someone who was one of the finest lyric tenors in the 20th century, one whose sad, abbreviated life, yielded so much musical pleasure for us all.

 

The Drip…

October 20, 2007

Where is my mother, just when we need her to be here with a dish-towel in hand, lurking behind painters, ready to pounce and wipe, whenever drips course down paintings in progress?

Scenario: On the patio, I have set up my easel, canvas, buckets of water, upturned plant pots to serve as places to rest   paint tubes, brushes, rags, the ubiquitous cup of cold coffee, my ashtray and other necessities for painting uninterrupted for a morning. Mother materializes, unannounced and unexpected, at the corner of the house near the garden gate.

“Hi!” she says, “what are you doing this morning? I just thought to drop by and visit you.” ( She lives three miles away, and has walked the distance without calling ahead!)

“Oh, I’m painting this morning. Gotta get this painting off to a good start. Grab a coffee and come sit,” I suggest, meanwhile trying to contain my irritation with this unwelcome interruption.

I mix a good quantity of fluid acrylic, start to lay in divisions , forms and tonal areas.  Mother comes out the patio door, and, heaving a showy sigh, arranges herself in a nearby rickety lawnchair, in the shade of the roof overhang. She watches in silence for a while, then goes back inside. I carry on laying in broad marks on the canvas, change my mind, wipe out and resume building the understructure. A workable design begins to emerge. Also does mother, back on the patio again, toting a dish-towel. With noisy ceremony she resumes her perch on the lawn chair and mutters, “oh dear”.

“What? What?” I ask, gritting my teeth.

“You are making such a mess of that painting,” she grouses. “look at all those drips!” She leaps us from her seat and advances with the dish-towel clenched in her hand. Elbows me aside. Begins to carefully wipe all areas on the canvas where drips are coursing down.

I am stunned into silence, then into a realization that the poor dear is merely trying to save me from that dreadful painterly cliche – drips. On the other hand, maybe she is merely keeping up her practice of tidying me and my messes. Whatever! I start to giggle and snort, not only because this is so funny a situation, but also to hide my mounting frustration.

So where was Mother, or her spirit, when the numerous painters in last night’s art opening were in the midst of their painterly labours creating cliche after painterly cliche. And not just of technique, full of drips and artful ‘fuzzification’, but also of flourishes of brush which hid their inability to draw believable forms. Then of course, one must also not mention the pot-boiler character of the images, the flabby landscapes, romantic strollers on the beach, and unremarkable still lifes of wine bottle, wine glass and flowers in a vase.

I guess, because so many drips were left frozen in spot alongside attempts at bravura brushwork, so that paintings looked as if done in a fit of painterly passion and urgency, these paintings would be elevated from “bad” Impressionist paintings to “contemporary” Impressionist ones. The original Impressionists must be rotating in their graves!

Martha and I attended this opening. Rumpole declined to accompany us tonight. There was a good crowd sipping wine, eating canapes, gawking and chatting. A good deal of reverence emanated from the crowd.  After all, the venue was the lounge of a golf course club-house, quite toney.

I crept around the perimeter of the show with my nose near the paintings. Martha schmoozed. The work of eight painters was on show, but damn me, with a couple of exceptions, most of the paintings might have been done by one person. It felt a bit like landing in an exhibition and sale of the kind of work made by a painting mill. One where one person painted skies, then passed off the canvas to the next guy for him/her to paint the trees, and so on.

I grabbed a brochure to see what was up. Of course, this was all from a studio of acolytes and hangers on of a Luminary of contemporary Impressionism. Yes, Luminary was capitalized. The brochure was full of bad grammar, hyperbole and reverent mention of the influence of Pino and Nikolai Fechin. The name of Monet, if not the spirit, was invoked. Ah, so!

When we got back to my house, Rumpole poured us a cup of coffee. “So, how was the show?”he asked innocently.

“It was very well attended” announced Martha.

‘Lots of artful drips” I added, “but they could sure have used Mother and the dish-towel to sop up some of the excesses.”

The Blockbuster…

September 5, 2007

“Dry Sherry”, my friend who works at the VAG, kindly drove me to see what has been billed as this summer’s blockbuster exhibition.  The whole first floor of the gallery is occupied by this show, laid out in chronological historic order starting with Courbet and ending with Ben Nicholson and Mondrian.

The rooms seemed packed to me, but “Dry Sherry” assured that the volume of visitors expected did not materialize. Martha and Elsa had gone a couple of weeks ago, on the evening of the “cheap night” where there were cheek to jowl people squeezed into the spaces, and looking at the displayed works was made difficult by the crowds milling about. Apparently, that evening the lines waiting to be let in stretched the length of several blocks, and they had to wait in line for over an hour before being let in. DS and my visit was fairly comfortable, and we took four hours to go through.

A problem for me was that I couldn’t read the title plates nor the didactic panels unless I got really close to them, and this was made awkward by the stanchions delineating space that prevented closeness to the walls.  DS read titles, media and other bits of information out loud to me while I juggled wearing two pairs of glasses in order to discern the surface of the paintings, and the marks of paint handling which is a particular pleasure for me..

DS is a great companion with whom to see an exhibition. She has an extensive art history background and a truly open mind about what constitutes compelling art work. We discussed each painting at length and she had an interesting way of providing opinions and impressions of what she was looking at. We each made a note of which paintings we would like to go home with, to live with and which would provide many years of viewing pleasure. There were some pleasant surprises, such as the Manet portrait of Berthe Morisot painted in an austere tonal pallette of blacks, coloured greys and a rich variety of browns with a most assured, direct and economical manner of execution. It was extremely casual in feel when compared with a Tissot confection that was highly polished; and yet it was the Manet which I loved.

The Renoirs in this collection (Cleveland Museum of Art) seemed vapid, flabby and sugary to me and reinforced my strong aversion to paintings by him. The one Degas portrait exhibited, a sober portrait of one of his Italian aunts, reminded me of why I have revered Degas as painter; yet this painting did not have the polish of the Renoirs. What it did have was a wonderful series of painterly decisions  and false starts, a record of a process taken by Degas in realizing this study. I felt like he was talking to me about why the veil of grey halo around one side of the head was necessary to try out, and why the placement of the reds in the composition he decided to place in the apices of an implied triangle in the composition. It was as if his thought processes were being transmitted by the construction, and I feel fortunate in being able to have this privileged experience.

The three Cezannes provided so much satisfaction. The Monets nearby did not fare well in comparison with the Cezannes, to me they seemed to lack an coherence, an overallness that was convincing, and their construction lacked rigour to me. They were paintings that would yield me a lifetime of absorbed contemplation – I loved them!

Van Gogh shared space with a delicious Redon. I am not a lover of floral still lives, yet this Redon gem captivated me with its effervescent and fresh colouration – we stood in front of it in discussion for a long time. Of the three Van Gogh pictures, two were gorgeous landscapes with all the beautiful casually cloisonnist shapes and spaces characteristic of Van Gogh’s mature style and with the brilliant matrix of brush marks with which he guided the eye through and around the composition.  And the colour was joyous and celebratory. Van Gogh is one of my painting “gods”, has been ever since I was a young girl and these paintings reminded me why I have held his works in the highest esteem.

There was a restrained and austere Braques Cubist construction that allowed for sustained contemplation that was most satisying.  This one, of somber browns and greys, reminded me of the meditative cadence of a fugue. Nearby hung a Cubist Picasso painting of a Pierrot, audacious and dramatic in contrasts of light and dark, pattern and plain, full of an inventive variety of pattern possibilities.  While I admired it, it was not a painting I would want to tuck under my arm and abscond with, were I so larcenously inclined.  But the Braques – oh, now that might be a painting for which I would risk my reputation as a law-abiding woman!

Of the sculptures, there was a lovely subtle head of a child by Medardo Rosso, which I had seen in reproduction many years ago – it sat there quietly seeming to elude stillness. A number of Rodin studies in bronze, patinated almost to gleaming black, were a treat to see. I like to see the struggle of Rodin to realize form, captured in these sculptures and it is so great to be visually invited to partake of his enormous efforts.

“Dry Sherry” really liked the two Dali  variations of St George, one a pen and ink drawing, the other an etching.  We agreed that Dali had probably studied Ucello’s “Rout of San Romano” because  the echoes of horse physiognomy were so reminiscent of Ucello’s prancing horses.  In the gift shop, we searched for reproductions of these two pictures, but alas, only the mainstream masterpieces were represented by the offerings there.  DS is an equestrienne and she was particularly take with these two Dalis.

It seemed to me that the didactic panels for the works in this exhibition gave only cursory smatterings of generalized information, regurgitation of art history canon, and predictably familiar brief descriptions.  A few people wandered around with large telephones held to their ears, listening to the canned explanations. At the sound of beeps they moved from painting to painting. We had a marvellous conversation with a couple from the north of England who had an interesting bit of information to share about a Dali painting in which a group of three men seemed to be engaged in a not very vigorous tussle.  They said the men seemed to be doing Cumbrian wrestling, a form of stylized and restrained gentlemanly sport. So now “Dry Sherry” and I can Google up some interesting bits about this.

I feel thoroughly energized by this time “Dry Sherry’ and I have spent at the VAG.  The whole experience was such a treat, and I am delighted that I am still able to see well enough to have made a direct face to face with some wonderful paintings. And the companionship of a knowledgeable and sensitive viewer like her was a special treat!

Gallery Hop…

May 26, 2007

Earlier in the week Lucky called, excited, and said she wanted to go to the preview of Heffel’s auction of Canadian art, most especially to see one particular painting by the Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris. She wanted to organize a trip to Vancouver so she, Barb and I could see a variety of paintings.  “Should be fun,” she said, “but, are your eyes up for it?” Was she kidding? “Oh, yeah!” I whined, “I feel like a complete shut-in! Even if I have to stand two inches in front of paintings and see some colour and marks I NEED TO SEE SOME ART!” So Lucky and Barb co-ordinated the time they would both be able to take a day and Friday became our art gallery hop date.  Yippee yay!

Naturally, Rumpole has to know of my movements and schedule, such as it is these days, and he disapproved of this upcoming play-date. “You are hopeless! You are going to stress your eyes and will spend the next two days whining about pain,” he rumbled, “but if you are so determined to go, at least wear your clip-on shades, a hat, and keep your eyes closed whenever you are not actually trying to see the art.” I reassured him that Barb would lead me about by the hand, me with my eyes closed, whenever we walked outside, and that I would take breathers whenever my eyes got tired.

Barb arrived early at our house. “Is that Barb sitting on our lawn?” asked Rumpole, “call her to come in for Heaven’s sake!” i trot outside in my housecoat and chastize her for not coming inside. ” I didn’t want to catch you guys in your underwear, charging about getting ready,” says Barb with a huge grin. (What? A sighting of two junior-seniors in their full early morning splendour is such a horrible thing to contemplate?) She comes inside, sits down in the kitchen and watches bemused as Rumpole makes a small fashion show of his tie selections. Once he has attained sartorial elegance, he kisses me on the lips and cautions “Take it easy today!” I roll my one good eye, like Quasimodo’s one eyed mother, at Barb; she rolls her two blue eyes in response.  We giggle, conspiratorial.

Lucky arrives in her hot bomb of a car. It is very funny, but we have all decided to wear black pants today. Whenever we do anything that involves going out to openings or art shows I jokingly state that correct attire for such occasions is anything BLACK.  At least today we are at half-way correctly dressed for a gallery hop. We pile into the car after some discussion of who is to sit up front beside Lucky.  I insist on sitting in the back seat – “How can I back-seat drive from the front?” 

On the way to Gallery Row in Vancouver , we discuss the ins and outs of living with 17 year-old daughters as both Lucky and Barb have daughters that age.  I say a quiet prayer of thanks for never having had a daughter, because surely remaining in a state of sanity and equilibrium is really difficult while raising teen-age daughters. Or so I have heard.

We arrive at destination’s end and find a parking spot, quickly. (Thank you, Parking Angel!) The voracious meter swallows up quarters and gives 10 minutes per quarter. I do the required feeding, and we troop into gallery #I, for what we estimate might take a fifteen minute visit. An hour later, Barb and Lucky, having made themselves completely comfortable there, have explored the front show space, discussed at length the work there, put a number of good questions to the gallery attendant and have got her involved in discussing the work, artists, pricing and valuation, and have lingered in the back room looking, looking and talking to eah other and me about the differences in paint marks, surfaces, colour and tonal limits, concepts. I sit on the large block of wood that is meant for sitting in the main gallery, close my eyes and just listen to their comments, questions and expressions of surprise and wonder, very satisfied that they are finding so much to discuss and express their opinions about. When we finally leave, and check on the parking meter, we find it requires further feeding, and once we have done this, they grasp me by the elbows and we stroll three abreast the block to Heffel’s.

Lucky is so excited, and goes about looking at all the work up for the internet auction. She asks the attendant where the lawren Harris painting she so wants to see is being kept, and is disappointed that it is buried somewhere in the store-room’s bowels and would be difficult to unearth and be brought up for her eyes to see. “Rats!” she exclaims, but the attendant hands her a good reproduction to take away, and she is somewhat mollified. On show are about fifteen paintings by various Canadian artists from about 1920s onward guarded by a smiling man in uniform. Lucky exclaims that all the paintings are so different, and asks why all the pre-auction estimates are so high.  So we engage the gallery attendant in a discussion about this. Soon three odd-looking, but sweet wire haired Dacshund gallery dogs meander out from the back office, curious about the noise, mill about our legs and sniff us up. All three of us are dog people and this visitation by furry, four-legged gallery attendants completely charms us; really adds to the whole experience. We leave.

The highlight of this gallery hop is a block up-hill on Granville, the Atelier Gallery. What is here is the reason I stubbornly insisted to Rumpole that I go on this excursion with the girls – a show of current paintings and drawings by BC painter, Robert Young, whose work I have admired for 40 years. On my last  weekly visit with Dr. L my GP, he teased me with information about there having been an opening at this gallery for this show.  Dr. L knows of my passionate regard for this painter’s work, as we have had spirited discussions in his office about matters pertaining to BC painters, and Dr. L jokingly commented that he was going to have his son start on a career as newspaper delivery boy so he could save up enough shekels to buy a Robert Young painting as a Father’s day present for him!

Well, we stayed in the Atelier a very long time, looking, considering, discussing, marvelling.  This painter has a most remarkably restrained manner of working, and this has an effect of stilling a viewer into a thoughtful and contemplative state. Lucky has a preference for more visceral painterliness in handling materials, more energy, greater abandon. Barb, on the other hand has a liking for measured control in working with paint – a slow, dreamlike manner of constructing images.  The result of their differing predelictions was a really thoughtful discussion, to which the gallery attendant paid close attention, and during which the gallery owner paused beside us to listen to,  a satisfied smile on his face.

My eye was sore, but, so what, pleasure of seeing this remarkable body of work made me forget discomfort.  The stimulating discussions among us had been most satisfactory. Barb and Lucky grasped my elbows and led me to the Alliance Francaise restaurant, where we ate light lunch and continued our discussion, most happily.

On the way home, driving through Friday afternoon rush-hour, I lounged in the backseat with eyes closed and listened to the continuing conversation between Lucky and Barb, most gratified that they had so much enjoyed this outing. And I had got my necessary Art Fix, which was worth two days of anticipated eye discomfort.

Thanks so much, you two gems, Barb and Lucky, for providing and sharing this marvellous gallery hop!

You can see Robert Young’s work in this show at : www.ateliergallery.ca     Enjoy!

Light as a feather… lift up…

March 13, 2007

Back in art school in the 60s, I felt the need to see more artwork and in greater variety than was available to be seen for those of us living on the west coast of Canada.  How to make this possible? Well, travel to Europe, that crucible of Western Art was the prescription. I researched and calculated where to travel, and how much this would cost me, and finding the costs daunting plotted how to acquire the necessary finances in order to do so. But I needed a part-time job that payed well enough to allow me to amass the necessary funds over a short period of time. During coffee-time breaks between studio sessions, a group of us mulled over how this could be accomplished. Alex, an older and more worldly student, who worked part-time at the local art centre and theatre as a stage-hand, often regaled us with stories of performers and performances, technical glitches that occurred during the mounting of productions and of life as a back-stage worker.  He suggested that I apply to the theatre as an usherette, a job which was unionized and paid well, and which would not interfere at all with my school requirements.  So I applied and was hired, much to my pleasure. Thus began my brief career as a theatre usherette.  It was by far the most interesting job of my times as a student!

All who worked at the theatre entered by the performers’ entrance, manned by a formally uniformed guard and supplied with a time clock with punch cards for workers to sign in at the beginning of shifts and out at the end.  The guard was a paternal gentleman who was very kind and friendly.  I prevailed on his kindness often to seek admission to back-stage, where armed with my sketchbook I would try to be as unobtrusive as possible while observing and drawing the activity of performers and technicians. There I had the chance to observe Marcel Marceau silently engaged in blocking in his movements on the stage several hours prior to his performance.  So, here was my good fortune to observe his preparation and then later, while on my work-shift, the performance from the front of the house. Prior to Renata Tebaldi’s performance (on her farewell tour) I watched her familiarize herself with the backstage layout and contemplate the enormous empty cavern of the seat areas.

It was however the week-long duration of the British Royal Ballet performances that provided the most wonderful opportunity.  Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were principal dancers in “Giselle”.  And, fortuitously for me, they rehearsed every afternoon. My shift to work coincided with every evening performance, and also the matinee on the weekend. So, right after school, I’d scurry over to the cafe to bolt down a plate of carrots, broccoli and cheese, and head over to the theatre to ensconce my invisible self back-stage to witness the practices. And think, observe and draw, draw, draw!

Rudolf Nureyev was very young then, a delicious leonine specimen of youthful malehood.  He had the presence of Michelangelo’s “David” as pictured in my Janssen art history black and white photos. He moved with fluid, strong and precise manly grace, completely absorbed in his repetitions of entrechats  and wonderful, high leaps where he seemed suspended for more than long moments in space. Light as a feather, but with the tensile strength of steel he seemed!

Margot Fonteyn was an impossibly tiny, sprite-like woman, much older than Nureyev at that time. She had the appearance of a slightly dessicated teen-ager, but a visage of amazing gravity lit by child-like flashes of expression. She warmed up at the portable barre, stretching slowly with great intent, repeating motions over and over again. I got a lot of good quick studies from this activity of hers, and kept drawing like mad. Nureyev would stop and watch her from time to time. He’d stand quite still and relaxed for extended periods and made a good model for many drawings.  Busy, engrossed, I tried to keep up with these two marvellous bodies in motion.

After a while, Fonteyn made many passes of chaine turns across the width of the stage. She had the density of a thin strip of paper that quickly rotated from place to place. She seemed to have little mass and basically flickered across the floor.

Shortly they began practising lifts. This was amazing to observe and to try and draw.  Neither of these two dancers was tall, and yet they had a size and physical compatibility, and a synergy, that was wonderful to witness.  Fonteyn entered into lifts, Nureyev assisted – it was a mutual effort, seamless! Time after time, they repeated variations of lifts that might occur in their pas de deux. Sometimes their timing would be off, and Nureyev winced with added strain, or Fonteyn would make a disappointed moue with her face.  And always, they communicated quietly and without disagreement or rancour.

A male partner in a pas de deux is more than a mechanical lift for the ballerina, much more than a prop.  He is an integral part of the unit of two bodies interacting in space, carving out form, extending a motion or completing movement, or so I have learned to understand with my limited knowledge of dance. But lifts are so beautiful to see when they are excecuted with precision and in unison.  Light as a feather – strong like steel, the male and female principle kinetically united.  That was Nureyev and Fonteyn, paired for me as the ideal male and female in the dance. Moving, poignant and breathtaking!

In writing this, I am expressing my wonder and thankfulness about how lucky a young woman and art student  I was to be able to witness these two remarkable artists and draw them. It was a little bit like being a fly-on-the-wall backstage.

Surely everyone has experiences of this sort, that give them pleasurable pause in their recollections?

A certain energy….

February 16, 2007

In looking at many paintings over a fairly long lifetime, what has struck me as most important to my understanding of what a painting can be is the element of energy sustained by the painter during the creation of a work which then is palpable to me as a viewer during a lengthy period of consideration. During such a long time of looking, the painting reveals its magic, the play and struggle of its maker and the willingness of a viewer to be suspended from quotidian pre-occupations and taken up into the work seen.

I gon’t get around much any more, in terms of long-distance travel, so the opportunity to see, first-hand, some wonderful paintings about which I am curious, is not a possibility for me. So, in a case such as this, the availability of books with good reproductions is invaluable if not an ideal way to get a view of an artist’s oeuvre. Recently, “PGT” shared with me his book of the photographic works of Joel-Peter Witkin.  We discussed the illustrations at length, but also the fact that J-P Wikin had a twin brother who painted, Jerome Witkin. On arriving back home, I Googled Jerome Witkin and found some intriguing information which firmed in my mind that I had to find and acquire a book about this remarkable painter.  This took a little bit of doing, of ordering a book which took some time to arrive, but it is here now, in my lucky hands.

“Life Lessons – The Art of Jerome Witkin”, Sherry Chayat (Second Edition) Syracuse University Press

     Looking at the reproductions, some of which are  5 inches by 7 inches, and then reading the actual size of a painting, say, 71 by 88 inches, required me to go out into my studio with the measuring tape to mark out on a wall this larger proportion, then sitting in front of that to look at the reproduction and imagine the shapes in the painting enlarged to that imagined size. Then, standing at my full height of 63 inches, extending my arm to full height and width (adding a brush) I tried to re-enact the making of a diagonal edge in the painting – and then realized how much psychic and bodily concentration may have been required of the painter in order to make the sure mark that delineated the long edge of a diagonal shape. Just what was the dance of Jerome Witkin like in establishing the underdrawing and composition of his rather complex designs, of moving forward and backward to check the marks for their desired direction, proportion and descriptiveness?  Then of course, there is his determination of how to disport the warms and cools, lights and darks, complex versus simple paint manipulations – he had to keep all these balls juggling for a long period of time in order to have arrived at such consistency of freshness, and just-rightness in so many paintings.

There is something acute and remarkable in how Witkin draws the human form, and so much pleasure in how he “sees” the specificity of the turn of a foot, or a pant-covered leg, that looking even at these small reproductions feels like seeing these things for the very first time.  That the theme of the paintings  varies from the harrowing to the poetic, symbolic is in itself a daunting reminder of the drama of life, of the witnessing of life and its circumstances by a most remarkable painter.  These are not paintings one can just walk by, unscathed.

Jerome Witkin’s work is my newly discovered treasure. How I wish to be in a room full of his work, and just sit, walk about and be inundated!

A poet in our travel trailer….

January 30, 2007

“Rumpole’s” parents loved to travel, and they did, rather modestly throughout the US and Canada  (for nearly 20 years) in their old Rambler they affectionately referred to as “Elaine”.

We had the desire to explore Western North America, and did so by car, and later in an old second-hand trailer.  We did look rather gypsyish compared to the huge and modern rigs which were outfitted with bump-outs, air-conditioning, microwaves and TV dishes.  Being used to having camped in tents in our early married life, we kept the accoutrements pretty basic and minimal so that the main purpose of our meanderings would not be focussed on anything but witnessing the wonders revealed to us during journeys.  I figured that if our-inlaws, a natty , handsome, and comfortable couple, could travel  for weeks at a time out of a couple of suitcases, surely “Rumpole” and  I,  much more relaxed in our attitudes, could do quite palatially well in our slightly tawdry trailer.

So, a large amount of space dedicated in our trailer was for books to read at night, camera equipment, sketchbooks and drawing materials for me. “Rumpole”, fully cognizant of the possibility for needed mechanical repairs stowed automotive tools, which had equal importance to any other category of item we carried. We also strapped on our bikes, so we could get around wherever we landed and explore places inaccessible by car which pulled the trailer.

As we travelled we ate by the side of the road, on grassy verges of farmer’s fields, truck stops and campsites which had laundry facilities. Often, while I sat off by myself drawing, “Rumpole” would either wonder off to take photos, or loll on the ground reading.

On return to our daily lives and doings in suburbia, the trailer sat out beside the house between an apple tree and a huge holly tree, and slightly hidden from the street by a casual hedge of very old rhododendrons.  Because our house was so tiny, the trailer became a little shelter for visiting friends.  There they had privacy and access to cooking on their own, but also use of  the amenities provided by our house.

One day a young friend who had left an unfortunate relationship came by for coffee. She expressed that option to return to her parent’s home was not one she could entertain, nor would bunking with friends.  But there sat the trailer, just waiting to be used. “Rumpole” and I looked at each other and with silent accord nodded, and he casually put out to this young woman – “Well, if you think you may find it comfortable in the trailer and sharing bath and washing facilities with us, you could always stay here for as long as you need to.” She stayed a short two months,  to sort out what she wished to do next.

So came to our lives this young poet. She nested in the trailer and made it quite her own. She put her little pottery jar on the dinette table and filled it with flowers she casually picked from the yard. She pinned a lovely kerchief she had bought at the Salvation Army store in the window. At night when we were in bed, “Rumpole” and I lay listening to music wafting from the trailer and in our open bedroom window, and sometimes to murmured conversations between this young poet and her visiting friends.  This was a most satisfactory arrangement.

Privately we mused that here was out opportunity to be sort of parent, friend, to someone who needed space to plan out her next moves in life – and that she was the gift of a daughter we never had.  And after all, our son “Renaissance Man” had experienced a similar situation in his life, a mere 7 years prior when he lived with an old friend while he was in transit between two communities and two schools?

Ten years later, this young poet has made a marvellous life for herself – she invents her life as she goes along, and has increased the circle of her supporters.  And she gives back through amazing writing. Our friend, “The Prissy German Tourist”, a fine web designer, artist, is currently putting together a  web-site for this young poet.

Within a month they should have her web-site up. So I’ll up-date this post to include her information for anyone who cares to drop in on her.

Elizabeth Bachinsky

“Home of Sudden Service”  poems,   www.nightwoodeditions.com

“CURIO – Grotesques and satires from the Electronic Age”  BookThug   Toronto

  http://www.bookthug.ca/miva.mvc?  Screen=PROD&Store_Code=apollinaire&Product_Code=1069&Category_Code=AA

                                                               

Practice and rehearsal

January 22, 2007

Some of my most valued experiences  involve the privilege to observe accomplished people  rehearse first and then, afterward present a virtuoso performance of their art. These opportunities were largely dependent on my being in the right place at the right time.

Not too long ago I spent two weeks with my friends “Prissy German Tourist”(PGT) and his wife, “Obsessive Compulsive Shop-Aholic” (OCSA).  During that time, PGT and I twice attended Life Drawing workshops, where many of the local artists regularly attended to hone their observation and drawing skills. Ability levels of these artists ranged from that of skilled amateurs to those of professionals, with the exception of one artist who many attending the studio regarded as a “master”.  This man has a long CV listing numerous exhibitions in public and private galleries, his participation as presenter at conferences and an extensive publication record, citing numerous critical writings about his work. He didn’t recieve deferential treatment – he simply set up his easel and working materials where he could squeeze into, in a very crowded room. PGT and I staked out our respective spots among the other people in the room. The model stepped up on the dais.  In silence, work proceeded. Time was suspended. The only sounds came from the crinkling of turned sheets of paper whenever a pose ended and it was time to begin a new drawing, and from intermittent flurries of scratchings made by drawing materials on  papers. At half-time break, people strolled around stretching their arms and bending their bodies meanwhile visiting quietly with each other. They casually checked out each other’s progress.  PGT led me over and introduced me to the “Master”. We looked at his drawings, and he made comments on what worked and what didn’t for him.

After the break ended, I decided to lounge on the couch behind the “Master” and simply watch him work for a while.  He used the same materials as the rest of us there.  He approached the process of building up a drawing using commonly taught behaviours. I did note some slight differences though. He looked at the model more often, paused slightly longer before he applied his marks with great deliberation. Any false starts, he merely worked over, embedding them in the matrix of lines and smudges that evolved gradually and became the resulting drawing at the end of the pose. Then, he simply turned over his paper to the next sheet and continued his drawing rehearsal.  I went back to my easel and back to work.

A year later, this Master artist had an exhibition of his drawings in a public gallery. One series was of large-scale dry-brush and ink drawings of pairs of hands, showing frozen moments of related  but varied gestures and interelationships. This series expressed so beautifully and eloquently the power of paying attention closely to nuance and subtle changes in forms seen. What this artist did was to demonstrate clearly through his drawings  the importance, value and pleasure to be obtained  through mindful seeing.  It was clear to see that these works represented the culmination of many years of practice and rehearsal with his chosen tools.  The drawings looked acute, fresh, vigorous, direct and sure – it was as if they had come about so naturally and easily.  They looked as if they had been dreamed into existence!

But what I have learned from watching this master artist perform his practice and rehearsal, and then subsequently seeing his virtuoso work is that there is process underlying a final product and that the process is integrally a part of the final result.   There is immense effort behind the creation of all kinds of phenomena that we daily experience, not just in “art” prduction but in all kinds of endeavours.

It occurs to me that what I have written about here is an illustration of :

“Form is the envelope of pulsation…” K. M-H

I must consider about this further!